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Fitness Addiction -- More Than 12 Steps

A balanced fitness program is very advantageous for our health and quality of life, however, too much fitness can be just as bad for us as too little fitness. Speaking from my mentality, however, I side with the error of having too much fitness in my life, and I have definitely paid for that multiple times in my life. When I tell people that my only addiction is exercise, they quickly state that they wish they had that problem, but as addictions go, I have to be careful with this one.

There is clearly great evidence that supports the benefits of regular exercise for improving and maintaining our health, but remember that doing too much can actually cause the body to revert to survival mode. Just like when we go on diets that are essentially similar to starving ourselves, our body goes into starvation mode and tends to hoard every calorie and fat deposit that it can. As evidenced by many poor countries, longer-term starvation can eventually waste away our bodies, so I am not speaking lightly about this topic; this example was only brought forward as an example of how our bodies fight to survive. The title of this article, which includes “More Than 12 Steps” is really about the attitude of addiction to exercise.

Many recovery programs across our nation use a semblance of 12 steps in their strategy, but I was alluding to the mentality that more exercise is always better than a little. Of course, a large amount of exercise does work okay for some people, because this has become normal, but there are times when exercise addicts go over the top and cause damage to their bodies. I can’t imagine just taking 12 steps or even just 12 minutes in any exercise program – that is my mentality, but to be honest, there are many studies that support mild exercise as a great adjunct to good health. I do advocate high-intensity exercise, but that mentality simply does not work for everyone.

So, we segway into your individual race. What works best for a person should clearly be what the person should incorporate into their fitness and health program. I find myself comparing my workouts and the outcome of my health, to other people, and I always have to remind myself that I can never be someone else, and they cannot be me. When we are running our race along our fitness program, we must always remember that we are only competing against ourselves. I suggest that we are on a fitness and health journey to become a different or better version of who we are or whom we used to be. The true measure of the effectiveness of our journey is the measure that we use against who we are. If we try to emulate others and try to fit into their mentality, we might find ourselves very frustrated with the outcome we have measured ourselves against. However, if we are only competing against ourselves, then the outcomes make much more sense and create a more realistic measure of success. This is a continuous battle for me, and many other people, and I find that I have to remind myself, almost daily, that I am my own individual path of health and fitness.

My particular mentality of intense exercise does create an emotional dilemma when my life events get in the way of exercise. For the last three days, I have not been able to exercise at all, and let me tell you, I might as well be feeling like an alcoholic that hasn’t had a fix in three days. Exercise can release all kinds of great hormones that give you a natural high, make you feel good, and provide great energetic balance – who wouldn’t want to feel these things, especially if they are not illegal or not necessarily harmful? The problem manifests when you can’t seem to get enough of these things, and you can push yourself too far at times, which I have. I remember one particular Sunday, several years ago, I played three back-to-back soccer games as a mid-fielder, on a 100-degree summer day. I found myself quite upset from the last game because the coach would not put me in the game enough, because he was focused on winning, which we actually did not do. I got home that afternoon and directly hit the road with my running shoes and put in many miles just to achieve that high that I was seeking. During that night and into the next morning I found myself in dire straits, which pain outside of even my normal accompanied by chest pains. I was around 48 years old so when I showed up at the emergency room, I was shuttled directly to the back for evaluation. Long story short, I was admitted as an inpatient and was there for 2 days for observation and management.

It turns out that I might have been just short of some causing some autoimmune responses in my body; I will never forget how bad it felt to go over the top like that. Although I advocate higher-level exercise, I always caution people to understand where their threshold is. It is like the altitude chamber I had to train in for possible aircraft depressurization, we were artificially brought to high atmospheric levels and told to take off our oxygen masks. The idea was to push the limit where your body starts to shut down, as a way to understand what that threshold feels like.

So, remember that exercise is important, know your limits but also test these limits from time to time. Being afraid to overdo things might just lead to great apathy and excuses not to do anything. At a minimum, movement of any kind, in any volume is beneficial to the body and is the way our designer made us to be.

Find some tennis shoes, find a floor, get some movement in, and get back to your true nature.

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